Children’s Lands: Empowering children to lead sustainably
Children’s Lands: Empowering children to lead sustainably
TEXT BY JOAQUIN SEVILLANO AND NATALIE SCHIABEL
The concept of empowerment stands at the forefront of Children’s Lands, a Peruvian-born program where plots of land are reserved for the stewardship of children. The interview below was conducted, through email, with the founder of Children’s Lands, Joaquin Leguia (JL), and the President of Children’s Lands Canada, Jackie Ryan (JR). Written by Joaquin Sevillano (JS) and Natalie Schiabel (NS).
JS + NS: Can you explain what Children’s Lands is and why you think it’s important in today’s world?
JL: The Children’s Land initiative reconnects young people to the natural environment. It instills in them an understanding of how and why we should protect, nurture and restore natural ecosystems and promote sustainability in our changing world. Children’s Lands is an area of land given to children by adults, where they can learn how to collect seeds, propagate and plant useful native and multipurpose plants. Through hands-on practice and teamwork, creating a Children’s Lands instills a value in nature that they can apply to the wider world. In the program, children implement actions which will benefit themselves, their families and other people, and nature. In places where there is no access to land, children can plant pots with minimum three plants (one plant for them, for others, and for nature).
It can be implemented by a child from any socioeconomic or cultural background, in an urban or rural area, in the home, at school, in the neighbourhood or the community, and in valuable ecosystems.
JS + NS: What long term impact do you believe Children’s Lands, or more broadly speaking does children fostering a relationship with the Earth, have on society as a whole?
JL: There is increasing evidence that children who grow up in regular and positive contact with nature, compared to those who do not, develop more empathy and skills in favour of life, and as adults will take more care of the Earth. That is why it is absolutely essential that nature is present in the lives of children and that they are emotionally linked with it. It will allow more empathic citizens and entrepreneurs to build a more peaceful, inclusive, prosperous and environmentally sustainable world.
JS + NS: The philosophy of Children’s Lands flips traditional power structures upside down by giving children the authority over the design and planning process. Do you see this philosophy extending beyond Children’s Lands and influencing other sectors of society, such as how people in positions of power lead and how cities are planned and designed?
JL: Francesco Tonucci has been promoting “the city of children” for several years. In their proposal, the opinion of girls and boys are considered in the process of designing cities. His philosophy, which I share 100%, is that if a city is friendly to children, it is friendly to all. Personally, I consider it a mistake to always talk about children in terms of the future, rather than of the present. The Quechua consider that in the western urban culture we consider the child as an incomplete adult, instead of treating them as complete human beings with valuable abilities that are fundamental to creating a better world filled with joy, affection, playfulness, sense of humor, and vulnerability, who use these qualities as opportunities to generate empathy, join together, and compliment each other. If cities would have these five characteristics immersed in their design, I do not doubt that we would live better in them. Planners could begin by including girls and boys in the decision-making process related to green areas, natural areas, domestic and wild animal treatment and the environment in general.
JS: What are your hopes for the Children’s Lands in the future?
JL: My wish is that the Children’s Lands initiative inspires and serves as a reference for Mother Earth to be included in all the educational institutions of the world, as the teacher in empathy and development of skills in favour of life and nature, as well as valuing the ancestral worldview of the native peoples of each country and region.
JS + NS: Can you explain what happens at Children’s Lands, as well as what the children do?
JR: Since the beginning of the program, children have been responsible for the creation of a 12,000-tree forest, a one acre wetland, an interconnected trail system that spans several kilometres, a mini fruit orchard, a children’s garden area, several living lodges (grape arbour, sunflower house, bean tipi), a wildflower meadow, a fairy tree, a birch tree circle, a bug hotel, a bug trail, a climbing stump circle, rope swings and much more. They also met with Ministry representatives and worked with them to develop their official ten year plan for the land.
JS + NS: Can you please explain how Children’s Lands Canada came to be and how it’s evolved since opening?
JR: I met Joaquin almost twenty years ago and learned about Children’s Lands through him. I immediately fell in love with the Children’s Lands philosophy and wanted to bring it to Canada. I travelled to Peru and had the honour of being trained by the children in Peru who had been running the program for almost two decades. When I returned home, we were given forty-six acres of land in Brantford, Ontario, to create the first Children’s Lands in Canada. It was an area of land that had been used for decades in mono-crop agriculture. The soil was depleted and lifeless. I remember standing in the middle of the field and noticing how eerily quiet it was. Today, the biodiversity that has returned to the land is incredible.
JS + NS: What transformations do you see in the children that participate? Do these transformations affect the surrounding community in any way?
JR: The impact on the community is profound. One little girl wanted to plant trees so that the deer had a place to hide from the coyotes. The Grand River Conservation Authority and Trees Ontario learned of this young girl’s hope, and supported her wish for a forest. They donated and helped to plant 6,500 trees. The children spent that summer caring for their trees and, by the end of the season, their forest had an 87% survival rate, which far surpassed what the GRCA thought possible (given the conditions of the land). So the GRCA gave the children another 5,500 trees the following year. Another young boy wanted to create a “water garden.” He did research, and designed a small pond. Ducks Unlimited learned of his wish and came out to see what the children were creating. They were inspired, and sponsored the creation of a one-acre wetland on the site. We’ve had bus tours of educators come out to the land and they donated the resource library for the wetland. The community enjoys seeing the children on the land and seem eager to support the projects that the children are creating. The transformation that I see in the children is incredible. We have a lot of school groups and summer camps that come out here for the day. They come not knowing what to expect (and many of them share afterwards that they were not looking forward to spending an entire day outside), and leave asking to come back again. The teachers are always excited to return and the children leave saying it was “the best day ever!”
JS + NS: How can people get involved at Children’s Lands in Brantford?